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Alberta Politics

15 years ago I started a blog about Alberta politics

It is remarkable how quickly time flies by. Fifteen years ago I was probably sitting on my couch in the living room of my heavily-subsidized and very run-down University of Alberta-owned residence in north Garneau when I first clicked the publish button on my brand new blogspot.com website. That was probably how Daveberta was born.

Dave Cournoyer in 2011 (photo by Earl J. Woods)
Dave Cournoyer at a political event in 2011 (photo by Earl J. Woods)

I was in the fourth year studying an undergraduate degree in Political Science that would be drawn out for a not insignificant number of more years as I threw myself into student union politics and activism, and then provincial politics.

I had no idea that 15 years later this website would still exist, and that it would also spin off into a podcast and lead to hundreds of media interviews, conference panels and speaking engagements, because at the time blogging was a novelty and something that a lot of people were just trying out.

Maybe I am just one of the few who had staying power?

The name Daveberta was inspired, somewhat mockingly, in response to Paulberta t-shirts donned by Paul Martin delegates attending the 2003 Liberal Party of Canada leadership convention in Toronto (which I was among at the time). I figured Daveberta both sounded better and was more authentic (I am a third-generation Albertan and Martin was not).

Presenting Jason Kenney with a Best of Alberta Politics Award in 2018.
Presenting Jason Kenney with a Best of Alberta Politics Award in 2018.

A lot has changed in politics over the past fifteen years, for myself and Alberta.

Fifteen years ago I was heavily involved in student politics at the U of A and in Liberal Party politics, mostly at the provincial level. This website certainly had a partisan inclination when it was launched and along with CalgaryGrit.ca and AlbertaDiary.ca (now AlbertaPolitics.ca) became one of the go-to blogs focusing on Alberta politics.

Back then I was a proud a partisan and largely depended on blog aggregators, links from other blogs, and keyword searches to generate website traffic.

Today, I enthusiastically hold no party membership (my political inclinations have also significantly shifted) and depend much more on Facebook and Twitter to reach my readers.

Dave Cournoyer Justin Trudeau
Dave Cournoyer and Justin Trudeau in 2014.

Alberta politics used to be boring, or so I am told, but the past fifteen years have been anything but boring. The political landscape has witnessed a number of political upheavals, and might be a little confusing to someone from 2005. Here’s a quick look at a few of the things that have changed in Alberta politics since Daveberta.ca was launched fifteen years ago:

Alberta Legislature

Then: The Progressive Conservative Party formed a majority government with 61 MLAs, the Liberal Party formed the Official Opposition with 17 MLAs, the New Democratic Party had 4 MLAs, and the Alberta Alliance had 1 MLA. Ken Kowalski was the Speaker and serving his 26th year as an MLA.

Now: The United Conservative Party forms a majority government with 63 MLAs, and the NDP forms Official Opposition with 24 MLAs. Nathan Cooper is the Speaker.

"...Dave Cournoyer isn't some obscure fat frat boy with a sticky-up haircut." - Neil Waugh, Edmonton Sun (January 2008)
“…Dave Cournoyer isn’t some obscure fat frat boy with a sticky-up haircut.” – Neil Waugh, Edmonton Sun (January 2008)

Premier of Alberta

Then: Ralph Klein was in what would soon be seen as the dying days of his premiership. Klein led the PC Party to win a reduced majority government in the November 2004 election, which was dubbed the “Kleinfeld” campaign because of the lack of central narrative of the PC Party campaign. Klein would be unceremoniously dumped by PC Party members at a leadership review in 2006, and he would resign from office months later and fade into obscurity after hosting a short-lived TV gameshow in Calgary.

Now: Former Member of Parliament Jason Kenney leads a UCP majority government, after successfully staging the merger of the membership of the PC Party and Wildrose Party, and leading the party to victory in the 2019 election. Like Klein, Kenney is hell bent on dismantling the high-quality public services that Albertans depend on each day. But unlike Klein, Kenney appears to committed to a much more ideologically-driven free market agenda.

Leader of the Official Opposition

Then: Kevin Taft had just led the Liberal Party from what appeared to be the brink of oblivion to more than triple the party’s number of MLAs. The Liberals regained most of the seats it lost in the disastrous 2001 election and made a major breakthrough in Calgary, electing three MLAs in Alberta’s largest city.

Now: Rachel Notley became leader of the official opposition after four years as Premier of Alberta. She becomes the first official opposition leader in 48 years to have previously served as premier. Notley announced in December 2019 that she plans to lead the NDP into the next election, expected to be held in 2023.

The Four Daves of Alberta politics. blogger David Climenhaga, NDP MLA David Eggen, Liberal MLA David Swann, and blogger Dave Cournoyer. (2013)
The Four Daves of Alberta politics. blogger David Climenhaga, NDP MLA David Eggen, Liberal MLA David Swann, and blogger Dave Cournoyer. (2013)

Alberta separatism

Then: The week that I launched Daveberta.ca, former Western Canada Concept leader Doug Christie was traveling through Alberta trying to start another western separatist party. The Western Block Party was unable to elect any MPs and was dissolved in 2014.

Now: Fringe politicians rally around the separatist flavour of the week, now known as Wexit, and a former respected newspaper owner and a defeated Toronto politician spoke in favour of separatism at a conservative conference in Calgary. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…

It continues to be a wild ride, and a pleasure to share my thoughts on Alberta politics on this website and on the Daveberta Podcast.

Dave Cournoyer on CTV Alberta Primetime with Duane Bratt and Don Braid. (2013)
Dave Cournoyer on CTV Alberta Primetime with Duane Bratt and Don Braid. (2013)

There are a few people who I would like to recognize and thank for inspiring and supporting me along the way (this is by no means a comprehensive list and there are many people I am thankful for who helped me a long the way):

  • My family, and my beautiful wife Kyla in particular, have been incredibly understanding and tolerant of this hobby and my indulgences into Alberta politics.
  • My friend Chris Henderson, whose advice and friendship helped me navigate a number of politically challenging times.
  • My former boss at the Liberal Party, Kieran Leblanc, who is a dear-friend and someone who I definitely need to make time to meet for lunch with more often.
  • Adam Rozenhart and Ryan Hastman for helping start the Daveberta Podcast more than two years ago. The podcast continues to be a highlight for me, and a medium that I have enjoying focusing on over the past few years. (The Daveberta Podcast has been nominated in the Outstanding News & Current Affairs Series category in this year’s The Canadian Podcast Awards).

And a sincere thank you to everyone who keeps on reading this website and listening to the podcast. I may not still be writing on this website fifteen years from now, but regardless of how much longer it lasts, it has been a great experience.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Ward system plebiscite faces Red Deer voters

New York Ward System
A map of New York’s ancient ward system.

Yesterday, I travelled to Red Deer to participate in a panel discussion with Mount Royal University professor Duane Bratt and former councillor Larry Pimm about an upcoming plebiscite on whether to adopt a ward system or to remain with an at-large system of electing the city’s eight councillors.

With a population of 90,564, according to the 2011 census, Red Deer has grown considerably over the past decade (the 2001 census showed 67,707 residents in the city).

With this population growth in mind, Red Deerians  should consider the important issue of representation and whether they will be better represented having one or more councillors representing their specific area of the city in a ward system.

Another question for Red Deerians to consider is whether their city has grown so large that it may become inaccessible for candidates to run in a city-wide election campaign. Facing nearly 100,000 residents, many candidates may not have access to the resources – money and volunteers – to run a large city-wide campaign.

Currently, four large municipalities in Alberta – Strathcona County (including Sherwood Park),  Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (including Fort McMurray) and the cities of Calgary and Edmonton – elect councillors through a ward system. Other cities, like Grande Prairie, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Airdrie and St. Albert, currently elect their city councillors through an at-large system.

Red Deer is not the only Canadian city having this debate. In Oshawa, residents have presented a petition to their city council in favour of moving to a ward system, which the city abandoned in favour of an at-large system in 2010. In Sudbury, there is a debate whether to abandon the ward system and return to the at-large system. Even Vancouver, with more than 600,000 residents, there is still debate about whether should keep its at-large system.

It has been forty-five years since Edmontonians decided to abandon the at-large system in favour of wards. With a population of more than 370,000 in 1968, Edmontonians voted in favour of moving to a ward system and, in 1971, the city was divided into four wards where voters could choose three-candidates as councillors. In 1980, Edmonton was divided into six wards each represented by two councillors and, in 2010, the city moved to a system of twelve wards each represented by one councillor.

Regardless of the decision made by Red Deer voters in this year’s plebiscite, with a fast-expanding population and projections showing large growth ahead, representation may continue to be an issue in the future.

Hotly contested mayoral election

With the retirement of three-term mayor Morris Flewwelling, a hotly contested race to replace the mayor has emerged. Two incumbent councillors, Cindy Jefferies and Tara Veer, have been joined by candidates Chad Mason, William Horn and Dennis Trepanier in the race for mayor.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Red Deer First says the slate has no official connections with the Wildrose Party and the right-wing Manning Centre. “Manning Centre called us and asked if we would be interested in hooking up with them. We said no thank you, that’s not what we are into doing. We’ve never had any association beyond the phone call,” candidate Darren Young told the Red Deer Advocate.